There is no city with less certainty than Karachi. Caught between chaos and relief, those of us who love this complex metropolitan are constantly reconciling ourselves with its confusion and harshness.
Dramatic dance performance Conversations 2016: Love Letter to Karachi sets side by side love for a city and the helplessness of not fully belonging to it. The love it conveys is intense and probing rather than flattering or comforting. Nothing about it is reassuring. Directors Joshinder Chaggar and Sunil Shanker, substitute freewheeling sincerity for dutiful platitudes, yet the dance drama is the opposite of cynical.
If love and loyalty were conditional, they wouldn’t mean as much. We love this city conscious of all its risks and shortcomings.
The work opens to a bright stillness – the calm tranquility of the sea, the gentle sounds around it. A single male dancer, Shankar, emerges slowly into movement like a crab his body tracing shapes into space. And then the city wakes and the daily commotion begins. Mundane activities of riding a bus, watching television, talking on the phone, in the abstract suddenly seem beautiful.
Into this melee enters an outsider- red in a monochrome world. Chaggar’s solo conveys the feelings of first being intrigued, then overwhelmed, then despondent, jubilant and finally fulfilled. She is a ball of emotion as she crashes to the ground. Her feet barely touch the ground as she prances in delight. Her arms stretch across the stage as she does a warmhearted dhamaal with the family that she has finally found. Each movement is highlighted by the inspired use of light and shadow to create a looming presence over the stage.
The dancers are skilled and highly watchable, making Conversations 2016 enjoyable even for those who don’t care to follow the somewhat ambiguous narrative.
But the story is one that will hit home for many who feel lost in the city. Chaggar understands what it is like to be an outsider. She spent much of her life abroad and moved to Pakistan a mere decade ago. she understands the beauty of Karachi while being attuned to the problems it has.
The subtle atmospherics of music and lighting help us feel every milestone of this journey. Ahsan Bari’s powerful score varies from soft and poignant to jarring and dissonant to truly jubilant and every shift tugs at the heart.
That all these conversations are had without words proves the power to re-create by movement all things in heaven and on earth.